At the present time, the recidivism rate continues to be the highest among inmates who are younger that 21. Based on a study conducted by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, it was found that 67.6% of inmates who were released while younger than 21 were re-arrested (“NRRC Facts & Trends”). In comparison, 49.3% of all federal prisoners released were re-arrested (“NRRC Facts & Trends”). The U.S. Census Bureau reports that as of 2010, the total number of young adults ages 18-29 in prisons or jails has begun to decline (“NRRC Facts & Trends”). In addition, male youth in prison are 16 times more likely than women to be in jail or prison (“NRRC Facts & Trends”). Although the rate of incarceration is decreasing for young adult males, the recidivism rate remains relatively the same; recidivism is reported as low as 50 percent to as high as 70 percent depending on the state. Henslin discusses that recidivism rates prove the ineffective process of our prison systems and therefore concludes that prisons fail to teach people that crime doesn’t pay (219). The price that is paid due to young adult delinquency is considerable; arguably, the most important is the danger of rearing a new generation with positive attitudes towards delinquency and social deviation (Esmaili et al. 165).
Among the inmate population, it is important to note that juvenile offenders have a unique set of characteristics, which make them more likely to find themselves in the criminal justice system. First, research suggests that youth involved in the juvenile justice system have trauma histories that are two times higher than the general youth population (Yoder et al. 251). In addition, Yoder et al. indicates that juveniles also have higher rates of mental health symptoms (259). It is logical to conclude that youth exposed to early trauma have an increased risk for delinquency and involvement with the criminal justice system. According to recent research, African American, Hispanic, and adolescents with an open welfare case are at an increased risk for recidivism (Ryan et al. 7). It is easy to conclude that minority adolescents who have experienced childhood trauma are at the greatest risk for recidivism.
In order to truly understand why the recidivism rate continues to remain steady in the United States, one must understand how people fall into cycles of crime. Depending on gender, geographic location, and childhood trauma a person may be more likely to exhibit deviant behavior. Henslin uses the term deviance to refer to any violation of norms, but for the purpose of this paper the term will be used in the context of committing a crime (198). One way to look at recidivism among the young male population is to adopt the psychological perspective of looking at personality disorders. As stated above, mental health symptoms are much more likely in this population and the deviant behavior may stem from deviant personalities (Henslin 201). Based on the sociological perspective, one would look at the social influences that cause young male offenders to commit crimes. Among these factors include socialization, social class, and membership in subcultures (Henslin 201). Another indicative factor of recidivism rates is level of education, the lower the education level the greater the risk of deviant behavior. As a means of social control to enforce social defined important norms, we punish prisoners by incarceration in prison (Behravan 286).
Similarly, socialization is another factor that influences recidivism. Socialization is intended to turn individual into conforming members of society (Henslin 69). This concept is essential for our development as human beings, it teaches us how to interact with others, think, reason, and feel. Cuervo et al. discusses in a study that there are traits associated with crime among young adults, including impulsivity and lack of empathy (9). The study concluded that juvenile offenders with lack of empathy failed to recognize the needs and feelings of others and ultimately found it difficult to establish interpersonal links (Cuervo et al. 12). Socialization is directly related to one’s experiences within their society, making it notably difficult for individuals to break repeated cycles of crime. Differential association allows us to understand repeat offenders through the sociological perspective that from the different groups we associate with, we learn to deviate from or conform with society’s norms (Henslin 202).
Furthermore, labels can be a powerful message to send juveniles and young offenders in society. According to Henslin, “to label a teenager as delinquent can trigger a process that leads to greater involvement in deviance” (207). To put the term deviant on a young male offender allows society to pass a negative social judgment and ultimately closes doors of opportunity. Besemer et al. concluded in a recent study that labeling increases an individual’s association with delinquent individuals with individuals convicted of a crime between ages 19-26 (2). In addition, labeling influences the individual’s self-perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs (Besemer et al. 2). The study determined that labeling theory was more prevalent among young offenders who had a previous or currently incarcerated parent (Besemer et al. 11). This finding supports the notion that young male offenders are more likely to fall into a life or crime if they are socialized to believe that deviant behavior is the norm. Additionally, being a former prisoner holds a stigma that is applied by official and social position holders such as police officers, judged, and employers (Behravan 287). Being labeled as a deviant through conviction may serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy to encourage young offenders to associate themselves in society with people who have been similarly labeled.
Finally, gender plays an important role in the recidivism rate among young male offenders. As noted by Henslin, gender is a feature that surrounds us in society from birth and pushes us into different corners of life while nurturing some behaviors and discouraging others (77). One indicating factor that reinforces gender messages is one’s peer group. The influence of peer groups is relatively powerful and consists of a group of individuals, roughly the same age, which are linked by common interests and orientations (Henslin 80). Presumably the most notable difference between male and female offenders is the types of crimes committed and the rate at which crimes are committed. Asscher et al. conducted a study that found male juvenile offenders commit more sexual and felony offenses in comparison to female offenders (222). This may be contributed to the male dominance portrayed in mass media and video games within society; an increased support that men conform to violence and sexual behavior.
Consequently, many steps have been taken to address the concerning recidivism rate among the inmate population. Notably one of the most influential steps is the recent federal initiative that aims to reduce recidivism rates. Wells and Hernon discuss the involvement of the National Institute of Justice and their ongoing evaluation of two federal initiatives (72). The first initiative designed to reduce recidivism is the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative and the second initiative is the Second Chance Act. The Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative was studied among high-risk juvenile boys and found through the initiative there were longer times before rearrests and fewer arrests after release (Wells and Hernon 72). In addition, the National Institute of Justice has awarded multiple grants to study the effectiveness of other programs in regards to reducing the rate of recidivism (Wells and Hernon 73). These studies are critical in producing the data needed to support shaping reentry policies for correctional institutions. The ultimate goal is to provide programs that produce cost-saving and effective measures in keeping offenders out of prison.
Additionally, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety is expanding their services provided to juveniles during incarceration and upon release. One notable services provided by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety is the Juvenile Mental Health and Positive Youth Development Programming Services. The Department of Public Safety stated that, “in the past two years, youth confined in youth development centers carried an average of three distinct mental health diagnoses, with 60 percent having co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders” (“Department Announces Additional Steps”). Consequently, youth are assigned to a mental health clinician upon admission. Additional services provided include: social work, health services, education services, and clinical services (“Department Announces Additional Steps”). The purpose of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety is to provide a comprehensive strategy of community based services while helping to reduce and prevent juvenile crime (“Department Announces Additional Steps”). The department services the state of North Carolina and had many divisions, such as law enforcement, National Guard, emergency services, adult corrections, and juvenile justice.
In conclusions, it is easy to see that recidivism is a prevailing problem among young male offenders in society. It becomes quite clear that the issue of recidivism is multi-dimensional and has many societal factors. Among many, the most prevailing sociological influences are deviance, social control, socialization, labels, and gender. Analyzing criminal offenders from a sociological perspective allows individuals to view criminals in the context of their community. In doing so, one can truly understand the reasoning behind criminal activity and why certain individuals may be more susceptible to cycles of crime.
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